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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

THE ART OF PAINTING                       247

photographic accuracy, and the setting forth of a new aim in art by
expressing the subjective impression of the artist. Su Tungpo fully
expressed this revolt in two lines. "To judge a painting by its veri-
imilitude is to judge it at the mental level of a child." In a comment
on one of the younger impressionistic painters, Sung Tsefang, Su
says: "Judging scholars' paintings is like judging horses. What you
want to look at is the spirit of a horse. The professional artists often
see only the skin and hair, the whips, the trough and the hay. That is
why the paintings of professional artists are lacking in spirit, and after
seeing a few such paintings, one is bored."

Here the Sung painters advanced one step further; in a painting,
tjiey tried not only to express the writer's impression or conception,
but also the li or "inner spirit". A simple way of stating it would be
to say that the Sung painters tried to paint the spirit rather than the
form of things. The Sung school of philosophy was called the study
of li. Under the influence of Buddhist metaphysics, the Cpnfucianists
turned their attention from rules and forms of government and
society, and began to delve into problems of the mind and the universe.
With the help of Hindu mysticism and metaphysics they began to
speak of this //, which broadly means "reason" in nature and human
nature, or "the laws of nature", or the "inner spirit of things". Ham-
pered by Chinese incapacity or distaste for abstract metaphysics, the
Sung philosophers did not get very far with this li as laws of nature,
but did completely believe in a pervading force or spirit or "reason"
behind the shape of things; nature is spirit and alive, and a painter
should catch that indefinable inner spirit of things in his painting. It
should not be the artist's object in painting an autumn forest to copy
the lavish colours of leaves, but to copy that invisible ""spirit of
autumn", or "mood of autumn", or, in other words, to make one feel
like putting on a light overcoat and going out to breathe the crisp,
chilly air, to feel almost visibly the yin overcoming the yang in nature's
metamorphosis at this season. Su Tungpo taught his son in writing
poems to bring out the individuality of a flower, so that a line
fjbout the peony could not possibly be mistaken for a line about
the lilac or the plum blossom. The essence of a peony is festive
gorgeousness, that of a plum blossom is seclusion and refinement. This
"essence" has to be seized by the painter's eye and the poet's imagina-
tion. In order to paint a fish, the artist must understand the "nature"
of fish, but in order to do so he must, through the exercise of his in-
tuitive imagination, mentally swim with it in the water and share its
reactions to current and storms and light and food. Only an artist who
understands the joys of the salmon in leaping the rapids and realises
how exciting it is to him should try to paint the salmon. Otherwise
he should leave the salmon alone, for no matter how accurate the paint-